New Farmers have a steep learning curve when growing vegetable crops or animals for market. There are many educational opportunities that teach production or marketing, but still, many startups fail. This project asks if membership and mentorship in a Farmer Cooperative can help new, beginning and diverse farmers (NBDFs) become more successful because a) long-term relationships are fostered and b) markets are more accessible. This should relieve two common social and economic stressors.
The synergy between mentoring and being part of a connected community (a Co-op) makes this effort different from other farmer mentoring programs. Mentors will help new farmers plan, grow, harvest, market crops and livestock, while the Cooperative helps build sustainable relationships based on cooperation and work-life balance rather than competition. The project lowers barriers to joining the Cooperative as well, and makes entry into a mid-scale local food marketplace smooth, simple, and successful for NBDFs.
This project will document whether mentored, cooperative, new farms are more successful in comparison to non-mentored, non-Co-op farms. Since the SLO Farmers Cooperative has ecologically sound, high environmental standards for all its members, working with them in this project will naturally contribute to the stewardship of our natural resources.
Project objectives from proposal:
Increase rate of success among new/beginning farmers.
Provide a model for mentoring new farms as they are “incubated” in a cooperative.
Enroll 5 new farms in the Cooperative each year for 2 years. This will include at least 4 diverse, socially disadvantaged farmers.
Determine whether the mentoring model for launching NBDF helps these farms become more successful than comparable farms as indicated by new member product sales, financial records and through interviews and surveys about work/life balance and other stress indicators.
Share results of the project thru conference presentations, hosting field days, written articles, and social media outreach.